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"Film School Confidential" Rocks!

by Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine Friday, Oct. 26, 2001 at 3:05 PM
mgconlan@earthlink.net (619) 688-1886 P.O. Box 50134, San Diego, CA 92165

Fifteen films by San Diego college and high-school students were shown at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts October 19-21 as part of a program called “Film School Confidential.” Their technical and dramatic qualities were generally excellent, and in addition to the films themselves a seminar discussed ways of getting student and amateur films shot, finished, shown and ultimately distributed commercially.

errorFilm School Confidential Rocks!
Student Films Show High Levels of Technical Expertise, Dramatic Power

Copyright 2001 by Zengers Newsmagazine Used by permission

Despite the bizarre title of the event a back-handed homage to late-1950s schlock films like High School Confidential and College Confidential and the bloody hand-print used as the events logo, Film School Confidential, a three-day event October 19-21 at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diegos Balboa Park, proved to be a quite entertaining and illuminating showcase for the works of local high-school and college film students.

The genres represented ran the gamut from comedy to neo-noir thriller to action-adventure to horror to neorealist romance to dystopian science-fiction, with a couple of documentaries thrown in the mix along with the feature films. Seven of the 15 student productions shown were made at San Diego State University (SDSU), five at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD), two at Point Loma High School and one at Southwestern College. Though the films ran the gamut in visual style and were shot in various formats (35mm, 16mm and 8mm film as well as DV and 8mm video), the technical finish on all of them was excellent.

So was their dramatic power. There was very little of the self-indulgence typical of student films in the 1960s and 1970s; though some of the films were realistic and some abstract, in each case one could be sure that what we were seeing was essentially the vision the director wanted and had in mind. Among the standout entries at the festival were:

Sigh, by Neil Kendricks (SDSU, 2001): A woman, desperately trying to reach her boyfriend on a pay phone, sees another couple on the street whose dysfunctional relationship eerily mirrors her own. Kendricks said he wanted the film to be ambiguous, and its a testimony to his skill as a writer/director that he achieved the ambiguity he wanted without making the film confusing.

The Choices We Make, by Jessica Berlet (Point Loma High, 2000): An extraordinarily compassionate documentary about homeless people in Tucson. Mostly Berlet lets the homeless people speak for themselves, and their comments about their lives, situations, dreams and goals shatter both the liberal and conservative stereotypes about homelessness.

Staring Into the Sun, by Geoff Grotz (UCSD, 2001): A student, about to graduate from a prestigious university, is involved in a car accident and finds he cant get any sleep and hes too stressed out to continue his classes, his job search or his relationship. Like Richard Linklaters new film Waking Life, Grotzs piece plays with our conventional notions of reality, dreaming and death.

Green Fly, by Kirsten Elms (SDSU, 2000): A woman, driving at night on a deserted road and playing saccharine affirmational cassettes, picks up a strange hitchhiker who tells her a Sling Blade-like story of his unusually sadistic hobby but which one of these people is really crazy?

Killing Time, by Tyler Spangler (SDSU, 2000): The closest to mainstream Hollywood of any of the entries. In a story reminiscent of Wilders Double Indemnity and Coppolas The Conversation, an adulterous woman and her lover plot to kill her husband by planting a bomb under his car. Only things dont work out as they planned in this inventive, tightly edited suspense tale.

Trudy, by Garrick Bernard (SDSU, 2001): Mary Hughes stars in a screamingly funny send-up of both bored-suburban-housewife and addiction movies. Bernard and Hughes do slapstick and satire with equal facility.

Tribute to Lumire, by Basilio Vieyra (UCSD, 2001): A series of five gnomic one-minute shorts shot in a flat, grey-toned black-and-white reminiscent of the earliest films offered as a tribute to Louis and Auguste Lumire, brothers in 1890s Paris who made the first films ever shown in a theatre.

LAmour, by Alexander J. Knox (Point Loma High, 2000): Using cut-out animation, Knox gives us an amusing tale of a dog who falls in love with a piece of cheese, marries her, then has an affair with a dinner plate, and to get rid of the jealous cheese

Perfect Order, by Victoria Robertson (UCSD, 2001): So you thought you were anal-retentive? A customer in a coffeehouse cant decide whether he wants to buy a doughnut from the pastry rack or preserve the impeccable ordering of the doughnuts in the rack.

Transit, by Shalini Singh (UCSD, 2001): Memento meets Fellini at the Myers and Gilman bus stop at UCSD in this story of love, sex and cruising among prospective bus passengers, filmed in reverse chronology.

Besides the entries by current students, Film School Confidential also offered two shorts by directors who later became famous Franois Truffauts Les Mistons (The Brats), about a wild bunch of boys just entering puberty and finding an outlet for their burgeoning sexual desires by harassing a young woman and her boyfriend; and Martin Scorseses 1964 New York University student film, Its Not Just You, Murray!, which like some of his most famous features is a story spanning over several decades and dealing with characters who are partners in (organized) crime. SDSU film professor Greg Durbin also showed one of his films, Boundaries (2000), a charming adaptation of a story by Fernando Sorrentino in which a Mexican-American woman, stranded on the Mexican side of the border, is harassed and ultimately followed home by a mute trombonist who keeps tapping her with his slide.

Durbin was also one of the resource people at the seminar on the last day of Film School Confidential. Also appearing were Kathy McCurdy of the San Diego Film Commission; Dave Larson of the San Diego Visual Arts Foundation and the BestFest film festival, another attempt to honor the best in student filmmaking in San Diego; Ruth Baily, programmer for the San Diego International Film Festival; and Kat Forcadas of F-Stop, a recently inaugurated feature on the Fox Channel 6 noon news every Monday in which she shows a short film from a local filmmaker and interviews the director on camera.

The questions from the audience, many of whom were student or amateur filmmakers themselves, ranged from nuts-and-bolts concerns about production to questions about how to get your film shown at festivals and ultimately distributed theatrically. McCurdy said her office at the Film Commission is designed to facilitate the ability of directors and producers to shoot in San Diego. Anyone coming to me with a project is treated the same way, she insisted whether its an Academy Award-winning directors $60 million epic or a student shooting his or her first film. Theres no permit fees and very little red tape. I want to help you. When you get that $30 million budget I want you to think of San Diego as a location and remember your roots.

Forcadas explained the requirements of her TV show and encouraged the film students present to submit. Well consider independent films and documentaries of any length, anything in the spectrum, all voices and production values, Forcadas said. We have 40 minutes in an hour-long time slot and will work on editing anything longer. We want to be a galvanizing force for the local film community, and we have lots of ideas.

Larson explained the rules for submitting to BestFest. There are separate competitions for high school and college students, and five categories in which to enter: drama, comedy, music video, documentary and experimental/animation. The entry fee is $15 per film, but pre-registration now can lower it to $10.

A number of speakers talked about how to crack the so-called festival circuit, how to get a film shown at festivals and how to get it noticed by a distributor. Durbin, who sold his film that way, advised people to look up the Web site filmfestival.com and try to match the film to one or more festivals at which it will be well-received.

The average entry cost of a non-student festival is $35, Durbin explained. The strategy involves understanding as best you can what each festival wants, and if you win a few awards you can beg for no fee [at subsequent festivals]. You should know youre competing against people who spent $100,000 or more on a short film, and if you dont have a really clever script you cant compete with that. You can count on a good number of rejections as well as acceptances. You should ask if its in a good city, if they offer prizes and media exposure.

Go to a local festival including Palm Springs, if you can stand the heat, joked Larson. Thatll give you an idea of what they accept. Also get a sense of how people market their films. You want to have a gimmick to get people into the theatre. For our film, $5 Movie, we made flyers that looked on one side like folded-up $5 bills and when you opened them, it said, $5 Movie.

If you plan to travel the festival circuit the marketing is all-important, added McCurdy. You have to budget for marketing as well as production, including papering the town, making buttons and postcards, anything you can do to put people in the seats. She recommended that aspiring festival filmmakers pay the $85 to join Independent Features Projects (IFP), which not only offers a directory of all the services a filmmaker needs but also offers a tremendous opportunity for seminars and screenings, and question-and-answer sessions with major producers.

Since the seminar took place right after Durbins film Boundaries was shown, naturally he got quite a few questions about it. He joked about the lies routinely told about budgets At independent festivals they want to think you spent less than you did, and at big commercial festivals they want to think you spent more before saying he spent $10,000 on the basic shooting and editing, and an additional $12,000 in post-production. He also talked about the difficulties of shooting in Mexico and his fear that the door opened for cross-border production by the success of Steven Soderberghs Traffic may close again as a result of the current terrorist scare.


BestFest 2002: (e-mail) bestfest2002@yahoo.com
San Diego International Film Festival: (Web) www.sdiff.com
San Diego Film Commission: (e-mail) info@sdfilm.com, (Web) www.sdfilm.com
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